‘Halala Eswatini’ declared posters, flags, and banners all along the geographic corridor between the city of Manzini and the Swaziland capital of Mbabane — an enthusiastic greeting to the country’s indigenous name of eSwatini. Henceforth, as announced by King Mswati III, on the anniversary of his 50th birthday, it will also be the country’s official name.
On 6 September, this year will also mark 50 years since Swaziland gained independence from British colonial rule in 1968. The combined ‘50/50’ celebrations were therefore, according to the king, the time for the Swazis to revert to their traditional, precolonial name. The king has been on the throne since 1986 and holds almost absolute power, including choosing his own prime minister.
‘As we are aware,’ he announced, ‘the name “Swaziland” was inherited from the British. If we are to give true meaning to our independence, time has come to give our country a name of its people. It must be said that this process is long overdue, particularly if you consider how other countries in the region localised their names after independence.’
In a speech at Mavuso stadium, he emphasised the need for economic growth to ‘advance out nation to higher heights’ and make the case that ‘we are a first-world country’. He also called on the UN ‘to receive Taiwan as a member’ (Swaziland being one of Taiwan’s few diplomatic allies) and urged Swazis to ‘hold hands and fight’ against the spread of HIV and malaria. With more than a quarter of the population — at least 220,000 people — already infected, Swaziland is the world’s most HIV-afflicted country.
After the modest whistles that greeted most of the king’s pronouncements, the flag-waving crowd saved their loudest cheers for the declaration that the country would revert to its indigenous name. ‘I have the pleasure to present to you,’ he declared, ‘on this historic day, a new name for the kingdom. Our country will now be called — the Kingdom of eSwatini.’
Immediately after the speech, there was whispered discussion about whether the traditional ‘eSwatini’ or a more international-friendly ‘Eswatini’ would be the official name. One local reporter revealed that the inner council – advisors to the king – had been considering changing the name for a while, however the final decision was a surprise to everyone else. Then booming music kickstarted the day’s exuberant celebrations, with dance shows by local children, traditional tribal ceremonies, and a number of dramatic flypasts, including of the king’s new private plane.
Grabbing my hand, one man in ceremonial attire beamed at me and declared, ‘Welcome to eSwatini!’
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